Finally, we return to the narrative that was halted in the Book of Exodus. We return to the story — Returning to the journey, on the way to the Promised Land.
But wait! What’s going on here? It is very difficult to locate a thread of a story. The episode begins with:
“The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert, in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month, in the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying: Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by families following their fathers’ houses; a head count of every male according to the number of their names. From twenty years old and upwards, all who are fit to go out to the army in Israel, you shall count them by their legions, you and Aharon.” (Numbers, Chapter 1, 1-3).
Moses receives an instruction that he and Aharon should count all the men aged twenty and over.
And immediately afterwards begins a long list of names, of each and every tribe, that one can get dizzy and get lost ..
But — where’s the story? Why is the plot not progressing?
Thereafter we find a small piece of thread of a narrative where God instructs Moses what to do with all the commands:
And God spoke to Moses and to Aharon, saying: Everyone should gather around his family’s flag (symbol), from his forefathers, and the Children of Israel should gather around the Tent of Meeting.
He must count them, divide them in a certain order around the Tabernacle, tribe by tribe under their own flags,
What does all this mean? How can we find relevance and connection to our lives today?
Let’s start with the first verse: God speaks (in Hebrew, medaber) to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai (midbar, in Hebrew), in the Tabernacle.
What else is new? As long as the people of Israel are on their journey, God always speaks to Moses in the wilderness (Bamidbar).
So why does the chapter bother to mention this?
When I think about the wilderness, I am reminded of experiences I had in the wilderness, which I can call transcendental experiences.
Every time I traveled to the wilderness (once in the Sinai desert and once in the Judean desert), I had a special experience where I felt very strongly my nothingness in the face of infinity; there was something very exciting about it. I have never felt the energy of creation so close to me.
If you think about it rationally, all of a sudden, all the stimuli that usually grab my attention and “turn off” my relationship to infinity have been silenced, in the wilderness.
In my life outside the desert, I mostly hear the sounds of my mind, the incessant “radio” that my thoughts transmit.
And suddenly in front of the power and grandeur of the wilderness I heard another voice.
I heard the Voice of God speak. The speaking wilderness. In Hebrew, Hamidbar Hamedaber. In the stillness and awe, I could hear the little spark talking inside me.
I begin to understand how it is that Moses heard the voice of God speaking to him from the bush in the wilderness, and how it is that the people saw the voices in the wilderness and received the Torah in the wilderness.
In our inner “Tent of Meeting” we all have the opportunity to meet with ourselves, with our truth.
No wonder people choose to do vision quests doing so in the desert.
If the Book of Leviticus dealt mostly with the work of the priests, then the book of the wilderness focuses on the role of the Levites, who surround the Holy of Holies and protect it.
And the picture it portrays is very picturesque.
In the center – a Tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant at the Holy of Holies, only priests are allowed to enter this area.
Around this the Levites are gathered and their job is to serve the Holy One. From setting up the tent, to carrying the Ark on the journey. Each family in the tribe has its own special role for which only it is responsible.
And around all this – the men aged 20 and over, the soldiers, each man to his tribe and his flag, according to the four directions (east, north, west and south).
A spectacular sight! And in my opinion is a kind of ceremony, with the purpose of reminding, by means of the body and feet, of the various roles, both for the participants and the spectators.
(The role of a ritual is to help us internalize things and anchor them in the body. The body is the best and most believable subject of memories)
When I imagine this image before my eyes, the following metaphor comes up for me:
“Our essence, our holy spark, the part of God above that dwells within us, our soul, is the one that resides in the “Holy of Holies” of “our Tabernacle”.
In order to be in touch with its “mother spaceship”, with the power of creation that nourishes its spark, it needs to be guarded and nourished.
The Levites are like the parts within us that protect the inner Holy work on the one hand and are ready to serve it, on the other.
And the soldiers are those same parts of us, that, after we have done inventory and sorting (mental arithmetic) and mobilized them for the sake of the noble cause, protect it from the forces that come from outside and perhaps want to take its place (the ego?).
Each force has its own “name”, its own symbol and its own place in the overall array of spark protection.
May we all be blessed to be able to call these forces by their names, identify them, mobilize them, call them to the flag and protect our essence from invaders.
So that we may be able to keep the spark pulsating and alive and act out of connection to our true essence.